Our trip got started with a pleasantly boring flight on Alaska Airlines to Los Angeles International Airport, followed by a taxi ride to Union Station in the heart of downtown. Wayne & Diane wafted in on the Pacific Surfliner around noon, just in time for a nice lunch (from Traxx) in the station’s tree-shaded courtyard. Then, after a quick walk through Olvera street, we hung-out in the Metropolitan Lounge until our 6:00PM departure on the Southwest Chief.
We had dinner on the train and had just cleared the industrial jungle east of Los Angeles when daylight failed. Sunrise found us passing through Winslow, Arizona, having stopped at 4:00AM to drop passengers taking the train up to the Grand Canyon. We had clear skies and bright sun for our transit of the colorful cliffs in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico, for our climb up through the forests before Las Vegas, New Mexico, and then for our crossing of the immense grasslands west of Raton, New Mexico. Daylight had left us again just before Raton and didn’t grace us with its, now cloudy, countenance again until Topeka, Kansas. The weather had brightened up a lot – but cooled down a lot too – by the time we crossed the Mississippi River at Fort Madison, Iowa and were pushing into the suburbs south of Chicago. The city itself was bathed in sun and snow and near freezing temperatures as we pulled into its magnificent Union Station – only an hour late after 2,265 miles on the rails!
After checking into the Hotel Blake, we succumbed to Wayne’s fit of boyhood nostalgia (he’d spent his formative years in Chicago) and had a classic Chicago-style pizza at Lou Malnatis. The next day we hit the Shedd Aquarium just barely ahead of the crowds – excellent, well described, exhibits in a magnificent Beaux Arts building built in 1930. After that, we had lunch at the Berghoff, wandered around downtown, visited a few bookstores, wondered why the Trump Tower was silver instead of gold or orange, and later had dinner at the First Draft (64 beers on tap, 200 available – nirvana!). Next day we went to see money at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, had lunch at Wow Bao (a local chain serving fast food dim sum and rice bowls), and then headed back to the station for our evening departure on the Capitol Limited for Washington, DC.